An international group of space experts have been bested by a hypothetical asteroid. Again.
In a planetary-defense simulation that NASA led last month, more than 200 participants from about two dozen countries learned that a fictitious space rock was set to strike Earth in six months. They put their heads together to investigate every possible way to avoid the impact. But in the end, the group determined that no existing technologies could stop the asteroid, given the limited warning time in the scenario. The rock ended up razing eastern Europe.
Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, helped design and host the recent simulation, as well as five previous exercises like it that the agency has hosted since 2013. In total NASA has helped lead seven asteroid-impact scenarios in the last eight years.
“Every one of these has a little different bit of a twist on it,” Chodas told Insider.
But the outcomes have, for the most part, had a worrisome similarity: In all but one, at least part of the incoming space rock has hit Earth.
“There is a certain, you know, morbid aspect to it,” Matthew Holman, an astronomer from Harvard University who participated in NASA’s 2015 and 2019 simulations, told Insider.
The simulations’ grim outcomes reveal how challenging it would be to stop an Earth-bound asteroid in real life – even with years of warning. But the repeated failures in these exercises, experts say, still serve a crucial purpose: They help the world prepare for a crisis like this by teaching governments and scientists how to communicate and share information ahead of an impact.